Chicago River One of America’s Most Endangered

May 18, 2011

Earlier this week, we reported that the U.S. EPA is demanding that the Chicago River be cleaned in:

Warning: Clean Up Your Rivers, or Else

Now comes word that a conservation group is declaring the Chicago River one of the most endangered rivers in the country.

American Rivers announced Tuesday that the daily discharge of 1.2 billion gallons of non-disinfected sewage that gets poured into the Chicago River has landed our waterway at No. 4 on its America’s Most Endangered Rivers list.

Just about every other major U.S. city but Chicago disinfects its waste water. In fact, Chicago is the only city in the nation that skips an important germ-killing step when treating its sewage.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) has spent more than $13 million of taxpayer’s money promoting the concept that the Chicago River is designed for shipping and sewage and that disinfecting it is not important.

But more than $100 million has been invested over the last 10 years by the city and the Chicago Park District to improve access to the river. As more residents use the river for activities like boating, kayaking and jet skiing, it has become apparent that the water needs to be healthier.

“It’s unacceptable that the people of Chicago are being denied basic, modern disinfection techniques used by nearly every other city in the country,” said Gary Belan of American Rivers. “This as an opportunity not only to protect public health, but to make a clean and healthy Chicago River the centerpiece of a revitalized waterfront and world-class city.”

To cleanup the river, it could cost up to $72 million to add the germ-killing equipment plus $355 million to finish the Deep Tunnel project, an area of pipes and reservoirs that store waste until it can be treated.

MWRD officials believe that improving the water quality would not be worth the expense, but a study by the Illinois Attorney General’s office found that restoring water quality could boost the local economy by $1 billion over 20 years from recreation alone.

“The Chicago River is alive with people and possibility,” said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River. “Already tens of thousands of people row, paddle, fish, dine, live and work along the river. Millions would if the water was cleaner and MWRD stopped fighting disinfection and worked with us to find the funding for it instead.”

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